Legends and Lore of Bees

Honeybee
Bees have been the subject of myth and lore for ages. Susan Walker / Moment / Getty

In the middle of spring, a magical thing begins to happen outside. In addition to the greening of the earth, we notice a change in the local wildlife. Suddenly, squirrels and chipmunks are everywhere. Birds are twittering away madly in the trees, worms are popping up right and left in the soil, and everywhere you look, life has returned. In particular, you'll see bees buzzing around your garden, partaking of the rich pollen in your flowers and herbs.

The plants are in full bloom at this time of the spring, and the bees take full advantage, buzzing back and forth, carrying pollen from one blossom to another.

In addition to providing us with honey and wax, bees are known to have magical properties, and they feature extensively in folklore from many different cultures. These are just a few of the legends about bees:

  • In some areas of New England and Appalachia, it was believed that once someone died, it was important for the family to "go tell the bees" of the death. Whoever kept the bees for the family would make sure the bees got the news, so that they could spread it around.
     
  • Ancient Egyptian pharaohs used the honeybee as the royal symbol, during the period between 3000 b.c.e. and 350 b.c.e.
     
  • The Greeks believed that a baby whose lips were touched by a bee would become a great poet or speaker.
     
  • If a bee flies into your house, it means that someone is coming to visit. If you kill the bee, the visitor will bring you bad news.
     
  • Several deities are associated with bees and honey - Aphrodite, Vishnu, Pan, Cybele, and Ra, just to name a few.
     
  • Ever hear the phrase "busy as a bee"? Bees in a hive work repetitively a the same task all day long. A bee who goes out foraging may fly as many as ten miles a day, gathering pollen and nectar to bring back to the hive, over and over again. According to the National Honey Board, a bee may visit more than two million flowers to gather enough nectar to make just one pound of honey. Thus, bees are associated with hard work and diligence.
     
  • If a bee lands on your hand, it means money is coming your way.
     
  • Bees are, in some cultures, associated with purity. This is because the worker bees that produce honey never mate.
     
  • Author J.K. Rowling named Professor Albus Dumbledore for an archaic English word related to bees. She says that when writing, she imagined the headmaster of Hogwarts "wandering around the castle humming to himself," and so chose to associate his name with bees.
     
  • In Celtic mythology, the bee is a messenger between our world and the spirit realm. Bees are also associated with wisdom.
     
  • Bees and honey appear in the Norse eddas, often connected with Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

Ceri Norman, from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, has a great article on bees in folklore. She says,

"Even in modern folk magic bumblebees serve as a as a charm for health and wealth. Bee stings were said to treat the pain of rheumatism and arthritis (something modern science is investigating), and honey has been used in folk magic to treat just about any and every ailment mankind has ever been known to suffer with. The Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle retails a charm, promising health, happiness and good fortune that features three ceramic bumblebees in a blue pouch–this is a vast improvement on the old folk charm it is based on, found in Dawlish, that sadly featured three dead bumblebees in the bag. Bees have long been associated with witches and witchcraft: one Lincolnshire witch was said to have a bumblebee as her familiar animal, another witch from Scotland allegedly poisoned a child in the form of a bee, and in Nova Scotia a male witch was accused of killing a cow by sending a white bumblebee to land on it."

Finally, it's important to keep in mind the impact that bees have on our environment - bees benefit other living things by pollinating plants. This, in turn, effects our food supply. Without bees to spread pollen, it's estimated that a significant percentage of crops - and thus, food - would vanish from our planet.

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Wigington, Patti. "Legends and Lore of Bees." ThoughtCo, Nov. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/legends-and-lore-of-bees-2561655. Wigington, Patti. (2017, November 25). Legends and Lore of Bees. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/legends-and-lore-of-bees-2561655 Wigington, Patti. "Legends and Lore of Bees." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/legends-and-lore-of-bees-2561655 (accessed December 13, 2017).